People want to hear from brands during the pandemic

Consumers want to hear the same amount or more from brands, says an Opinium survey.

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Getty Images

As marketers, we get wrapped up in what we, the experts, believe, rather than what the public thinks, feels and does. We love to offer opinions about how brands and businesses should act, what they should say and why they should say it, especially during a crisis.

The past few weeks have been tumultuous for everyone. And while it's easy to voice our views, we also need to listen to the people we claim to be talking to and speaking for.

So we did. Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 U.S. adults aged 18+ between March 20th and 25th. The survey was conducted online. Here's what we heard.

Don't let fear stop you from communicating

Many have described this crisis as a tightrope for brands. Those who engage with the crisis risk being seen as disingenuous, and those that continue with commercial activity risk being perceived as tactless. By this logic, it might appear that you're damned if you do or damned if you don't.

So, should companies scrap campaigns and go dark?

Not according to consumers. Across all industries we surveyed, the vast majority of consumers either want to hear the same amount or more from brands and companies at this time.

Unsurprisingly the companies consumers want to hear more from brands that provide the essentials: grocery stores, healthcare and pharma, household goods, food and drink. But even brands less relevant to the current crisis, such as fitness, automotive, fashion and beauty brands aren't being ignored. People want to hear the same or more from the brands that are willing to engage.

Also, the sectors consumers have heard more about in the past week are perceived as handling the crisis better than those that are less outspoken. Across the board, the US public has had a net positive perception of every sector's responses to coronavirus. It's time for brands to get back in the saddle.

Authenticity is still king

With 57% of the US population believing that brands are 'jumping on the bandwagon' with their messaging around coronavirus, it's clear audiences aren't convinced by the sincerity of brand communications.

Doubting brand messaging is not new, but as more people are stuck at home than ever before, consumers seek content about the day-to-day experiences of employees dealing with the coronavirus. Yes, consumers still want to hear from the CEO. But as we become more physically distant, we crave content that brings us closer to real people on the front lines.

Consumers definitely don't want to hear from influencers or celebrity spokespeople right now.

Are we allowed to talk about anything else?

In short, yes, but what consumers want to hear from you and what tone is appropriate depends on your industry. Here are a few human truths and trends revealed by the data to guide your content strategy.

People miss normal. Nearly two thirds of Americans say they miss talking about things other than coronavirus and 40% say they would prefer for brands and organizations to talk about something else, while only 16% explicitly disagree. A staggering 72% want to keep normality in their life, as 58% feel that their way of life has been heavily disrupted.

The rise of escapism. Over a third of US respondents have begun actively avoiding the news in the last week, but the younger cohort is doing so most (41% of 18-34s). Some 47% are turning to entertainment to avoid what's going on in the world, again highest for 18-34s. And 81% say we could all use with a bit of good news – that's 97% for the over 65's.

People still care about other things. While 31% believe that tackling coronavirus is the only thing that matters right now, 41% disagree and 55% think there are important things other than coronavirus that aren't being addressed. If they are relevant to your brand, consumers will welcome content on other important issues that are currently being side-lined.

Health warning! Though consumers are open to content beyond coronavirus, the degree to which brands can play into this depends on their proximity to the crisis. Consumers expect to hear more practical, helpful content from companies that provide essential goods in this time of need.

If you are a grocery brand, or healthcare/pharma brand, consumers are more interested in business updates, advice on dealing with the crisis, and products and services that may be useful. Consumers are naturally more receptive to light-hearted content from companies like entertainment or fitness brands.

Where to reach consumers?

Over half of U.S. respondents report watching more live TV than usual, indicating an opportunity for brands to reach a wider audience during cheaper day-time slots that full-time workers wouldn't normally see.

Some 37% say they would like to see TV advertising from brands, making it the preferred channel for consumers to hear from brands during these times, alongside email. The data suggests consumers are opening and interacting with emails at higher rates than before.

The hierarchy of preferred channels differs most for 18-34s who want to hear from brands through owned social posts (not ads) above all other channels, with email a close second.

Giulia Prati is VP of research at Opinium, which can be reached at hello@opinium.com.

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